2015's Most Popular Vehicles in America - Segment by Segment by Segment

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

American consumers, businesses, and government agencies registered a record-setting 17.5 million new vehicles in 2015. That takes into account more than 2.5 million pickup trucks, half a million minivans, more than 420,000 commercial vans, more than 420,000 subcompact crossovers, and nearly 2.4 million midsize cars.

But as SUV/CUV sales increased rapidly, pickup trucks strengthen, and car sales decline, which vehicles dominated their respective categories?

Envelope, please.

Subcompact Car – Nissan Versa

With a 3-percent increase to 144,528 U.S. sales in calendar year 2015, the Versa outsold its next-best-selling rival, the Chevrolet Sonic, by more than two to one. Though the Versa sits below the compact Sentra in Nissan’s lineup, it derives much of its success from its vast rear seat. Versa sales in 2015 rose to an all-time high even as subcompacts slid 9 percent.

Compact Car – Toyota Corolla

In 2015, for a second consecutive year, the Toyota Corolla was America’s best-selling compact car. Corolla volume jumped 7 percent to 363,332 units as category-wide volume grew just 2 percent. Late in the year, the Honda Civic surged to the top of the pack with sales victories in November and December, just as American Honda cleared out ninth-gen Civics and welcomed the all-new tenth-generation car.

Midsize Car – Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry, up by a scant 0.2 percent to 429,355 sales in 2015, was America’s best-selling car for a 14th consecutive year in 2015. The Camry’s four highest-volume rivals — Accord, Altima, Fusion, Sonata — all sold less often in 2015 than in 2014. Indeed, midsize car volume was down 2 percent in 2015.

Large Car – Chevrolet Impala

U.S. sales of full-size, volume brand cars plunged by more than 11 percent in 2015 after an 8-percent drop the year before. Partly to blame is GM’s goal of realigning the Chevrolet Impala as a retail-oriented sedan, not a fleet favourite. The Impala is the segment leader, however, despite a 17 percent drop to 116,825 units. 2015 was the fifth consecutive year of U.S. Impala sales decline. The Dodge Charger finished the year 22,100 sales behind the Impala.

Sports Car – Ford Mustang

If ever the Mustang shed its “sporty” image for true “sports car” cred, it’s with this sixth-generation car. Setting aside all of our nuanced “sports car” definitions, the Mustang’s 48-percent leap to 122,349 sales — 44,847 more than the Chevrolet Camaro managed — resulted in the best calendar year for the Mustang since 2007.

Premium Car – BMW 3-Series

A surging Mercedes-Benz C-Class wasn’t quite strong enough to catch the perennial favourite, BMW’s 3-Series. Sales of the 3-Series slid 6 percent to 94,527 units in 2015, just 8,447 sales ahead of the C-Class. BMW also sold 46,082 copies of the 3-Series’ offshoot, the 4-Series, in 2015.

Premium SUV/CUV – Lexus RX

Not only did the Lexus RX easily outsell every other premium brand utility vehicle, the RX also outsold all premium brand cars. That’s not an unusual position for the RX, sales of which fell 6 percent to 100,610 units in 2015 as Lexus transitioned from one generation to the next, but it was made potentially more difficult last year. The RX was no longer the lone affordable Lexus crossover. In addition to the RX, Lexus also sold 43,764 copies of the NX in 2015.

Subcompact SUV/CUV – Subaru XV Crosstrek

Arguably, the XV Crosstrek isn’t a subcompact crossover. It’s slightly larger on the outside than vehicles like the Mazda CX-3 and Chevrolet Trax. Then again, it’s substantially smaller than its own CR-V-fighting sibling, the Subaru Forester. Its obvious links to the Subaru Impreza can also alter some viewpoints. Crosstrek sales jumped 25 percent to 88,927 units in 2015. The Buick Encore ranked second with a 38-percent improvement to 67,549 units; Chevrolet sold 63,030 copies of the Trax. The fourth-quarter leader? The Jeep Renegade, which wasn’t on sale for most of the first three months of the year.

Compact SUV/CUV – Honda CR-V

In 2015, for a fourth consecutive year, the top-selling utility vehicle in America was the Honda CR-V. Consequently, the Honda CR-V thus led its own category for a fourth consecutive year. CR-V growth did, however, slow in 2015. Sales were up just 3 percent to 345,647 units. The Toyota RAV4 was 30,235 sales behind.

Intermediate/Large SUV/CUV – Ford Explorer

If you’re thinking in terms of full-size, body-on-frame, truck-based SUVs, the Chevrolet Tahoe is tops, and GM controls that category with an iron fist. But among utility vehicles with standard third rows, the Explorer’s 19-percent increase to 249,251 units was easily superior to all rivals, making 2015 the best year for the Explorer since 2004.

Midsize Pickup Truck – Toyota Tacoma

General Motors sold more Chevrolet Colorados and GMC Canyons than expected: 114,507 in total. Yet while GM was making inroads, Toyota Tacoma sales were surging, too. Tacoma volume was up 16 percent to 179,562 units in 2015, the first 170,000-plus year for the Tacoma since 2007.

Full-Size Pickup Truck – Ford F-Series

For the first time since 2009, the Ford F-Series didn’t generate more U.S. new vehicle sales than the combined GM full-size forces. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra joined together for 824,683 sales in 2015; Ford F-Series sales were up 3.5 percent to 780,354. Top-selling? Sort of.

Minivan – Toyota Sienna

There’s no denying that Fiat Chrysler’s twins, the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan, combined for greater market share in 2015. Despite a plant shutdown and a severe decline, the duo owned 37 percent of America’s minivan market. But after ranking first and second in 2014, they ranked third and fourth in 2015. Sienna sales jumped 10 percent to 137,497 units, an eight-year high.

Small Commercial Van – Ford Transit Connect

Challengers are increasingly numerous, but Transit Connect sales increased to a record high of 52,221 sales in 2015, up 21 percent year-over-year. That was good enough for 55 percent market share in its category.

Full-Size Commercial Van – Ford Transit

No commercial van in America sold more often in 2015 than the Ford Transit, sales of which jumped to 117,577 units. Between the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana, General Motors managed 85,374 sales, but keep in mind, Ford also sold 50,788 copies of the E-Series, mostly stripped chassis and cutaway models.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
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  • Truckducken Truckducken on Jan 13, 2016

    Thought I saw in this space a few weeks back that the Versa and Soul were neck and neck in the subcompact segment with a few weeks to go. Musta been elsewhere.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Jan 13, 2016

    I never was popular myself, so I can fully understand why these are popular. They're so generic it's sick.

  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.
  • Lou_BC I suspect that since the global pandemic, dealerships have preferred to stay with the "if you want it, we will order it" business model. They just need some demo models on hand and some shiny bits to catch the impulse buyer. Profits are higher and risks lower this way.
  • Probert When I hear the word "patriot", I think of entitled hateful whining ignorant traitors to democracy. But hey , meant to say "Pass the salt."